The relationship between Aristotle, the renowned philosopher, and Alexander the Great, the famed Macedonian conqueror, is one of the most intriguing episodes in the annals of ancient history. The convergence of their lives at the crossroads of knowledge and power shaped not only the life and views of young Alexander, but also left a considerable impact on the world.
The Appointment of Aristotle as a Tutor
In 343 BC, when Alexander was just 13 years old, his father, King Philip II of Macedon, appointed Aristotle as his tutor. Aristotle was already a distinguished scholar in Athens, having studied under Plato for over 20 years. King Philip, recognizing the importance of a comprehensive education for his son and heir, decided that Aristotle, with his wide-ranging knowledge and wisdom, was the most suitable candidate for this task.
Education Under Aristotle
For the next several years, the philosopher educated Alexander and some of his companions, later known as the “Companions,” in a school at the temple of the Nymphs at Mieza, a village near the Macedonian capital. The curriculum included diverse subjects such as philosophy, politics, poetry, sciences, and arts. It is said that Aristotle inspired in Alexander a deep love for Homeric literature and a fascination with the heroic age of Greek myth. This education likely influenced Alexander’s perspective on leadership and heroic valor, ideas that guided him in his future conquests.
Impact on Alexander’s Worldview
Aristotle’s teachings had a profound influence on Alexander’s worldview and policies. Under Aristotle’s influence, Alexander developed an appreciation for Greek culture and philosophy, a vision that guided his mission of disseminating Hellenistic culture across his vast empire. This resulted in a blend of cultures, especially Greek and Persian, which created the unique Hellenistic period in history.
Moreover, Aristotle’s teachings in science and geography also reportedly guided Alexander during his campaigns. For instance, Alexander, guided by Aristotle’s teachings, sent back to Greece a variety of biological specimens from his conquests, significantly contributing to knowledge about the natural world.
Disagreements and Differences
Despite their teacher-student relationship, Aristotle and Alexander held differing views on several key issues. Alexander, influenced by the cosmopolitan atmosphere of his empire, increasingly leaned towards a policy of fusion between Greeks and Persians, which was a departure from Aristotle’s philosophy that Greeks should remain culturally and racially separate from “barbarians,” a term Greeks used to describe non-Greeks. These differences led to a strain in their relationship, especially as Alexander became more of a monarch and less of a student.
Additionally, the execution of Callisthenes, Aristotle’s grandnephew and Alexander’s court historian, reportedly over a conspiracy against Alexander, put further distance between the philosopher and the king.
Legacy of their Relationship
Despite the disagreements and subsequent estrangement, the impact of Aristotle’s teachings on Alexander was significant. Alexander’s policies of cultural fusion led to the Hellenistic era, a time of significant cultural and intellectual exchange, which laid the groundwork for the later Roman Empire and significantly influenced the development of the Western world.
The relationship between Aristotle and Alexander the Great was a historic intertwining of philosophy and power, wisdom and ambition, teacher and student. Despite its eventual complexity and their differences, their relationship played a crucial role in shaping one of the most influential periods of ancient history. Aristotle’s guidance not only shaped a conqueror but also facilitated the fusion of cultures and the dissemination of Greek knowledge, leaving an indelible imprint on world history.